‘Dad was dying’: Canada man’s stage 4 cancer in remission after battling for $900K treatment in Boston

BOSTON, Mass. — A man from Canada is getting another chance at life after fighting for and undergoing $900,000 worth of treatment for Stage 4 cancer in Boston.

CBC reports that Stephen Saunders, of Nova Scotia, spent three and a half years undergoing three lines of chemotherapy and a clinical trial after being diagnosed with Stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

After he relapsed in November 2018, doctors told him he had months left to live — without immunotherapy. The CAR-T cell therapy would genetically modify his T-cells so they would target and kill his cancer. The treatment was available in at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

But the price tag was an obstacle. Doctors said his treatment would come to roughly $900,000. In December, Nova Scotia’s Health Department denied a funding request for Saunders. The treatment is roughly five times more than life-saving procedures like organ transplants, CBC reports.

“It felt like an impossible task when we were told that we had to get funding,” said his daughter, Hailey MacDonald. “We kind of felt like we had his life in our hands. We felt like we were so close to losing him that we now really appreciate every single day that we got with him and are going to get with him.”

After media covered his story the following week, Saunders was informed that the health department would pay for a consultation in Boston. Once there, they learned he was “an ideal candidate.”

“Until you hear that from a physician, well, you’re always not 100 percent sure of what is going to be the outcome of that visit,” said Hailey. “So when the doctor said that, we felt like we’d jumped another hurdle.”

In January, Saunders learned the health department would cover the cost. CDC reports the results of the consultation is likely what convinced the health department to fund his procedure.

By then, CBC reports, Saunders was almost too sick for the procedure. He had to have emergency chemotherapy first.

“There is not a doubt in my mind that very first week we were there that dad was dying,” Hailey said. “He was on his way out, he was extremely sick and it was a struggle to get him to the hospital.”

But he was eventually able to undergo the treatment. CBC reports it takes about three weeks for doctors to modify cells so they target cancerous ones.

It worked. He went into remission within 38 days.

“I won the lottery,” Saunders told CBC. “It’s not money, but it’s a lot better.”

Now, his family hopes his success will encourage Nova Scotia to start funding the treatment for others.

“If we can get it earlier in someone’s cancer journey, then that would be something that would be a huge help cost-wise,” MacDonald told CBC.

In the meantime, Saunders said he keeps getting stronger and stronger.

“I say I’m cured,” he said. “I’m getting stronger all the time so knock on wood, it worked.”

For a Facebook page with updates on Saunders’ journey, click here. 

For much more, click here. 

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